Sunday, October 25, 2009

St. Crispin's Day

Today marks St. Crispin’s Day -- a commemoration of two saints, actually: Crispin and Crispinian. According to tradition both men were shoemakers who were martyred at Soissons at the end of the 3rd century. But I don’t generally think of shoes or shoemakers on this day... I think of one of my favorite high school teachers.

In the pantheon of teachers who shaped me into the woman I am today, one of those remarkable teachers was a man we all called “D. Smith” -- our AP European History teacher. D. Smith was a remarkable, creative, and inspiring teacher who respected his students while challenging them to stretch and to grow into true thinkers. Our first assignment in his class was to draw Europe. Yes. He gave us each a blank sheet of paper, and we had to draw a political map of Europe from memory. I did not do very well, but I tell you that by the end of that class I could recite parts of The Leviathan, have an intelligent discussion of the French Revolution, and yes, draw a map that bore a passing resemblance to Europe.
D.Smith referred to us, his AP students, as “the gods of the earth.” He inspired in us a passion for the politics of revolutions, the art and music of empires, and he encouraged each of us to pursue our intellectual curiosities with integrity and vigor.

The day of the dreaded AP exam dawned, and “the gods of the earth” stumbled into the classroom clad in sweatpants and slippers, prepared for hours of writing and analysis, terrified and ready for it all to be over. D. Smith stood before us and instead of wishing us luck, he gave us the world’s best pep talk, borrowing from Shakespeare’s Henry V.

A little context for those who don’t remember Henry V...
It is October 25,1415: St. Crispian’s Day, and England under Henry V is about to face France at the Battle of Agincourt. England is sorely outnumbered, and the English commanders are fretting about their poor odds, but King Henry feels differently.

Westmoreland: O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

King Henry V: What's he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
To D. Smith and great teachers everywhere: Salute!

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